Lack of qualified workers today and the need for training the next generation of employees with 21st-century skills has become one of the most critical issues facing New Hampshire businesses.
Without a significant effort among more employers, we’ll soon see a manufacturing, health care, information technology and professional services workforce so shallow it will jeopardize the state’s long-term economic vitality.
The good news is that many businesses are committed to fixing this challenge. The bad news is that many more employers are needed to achieve success.
For our part, the Business and Industry Association, in partnership with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, launched Workforce Accelerator 2025 earlier this year. Workforce Accelerator 2025 originates from a goal, embraced by business leaders, educators, and public policy leaders alike (including the New Hampshire Legislature), to ensure that 65 percent of the state’s workforce possesses a college degree or high-quality credential or certification to meet the needs of New Hampshire’s economy by the year 2025. We’re currently at about 52 percent.
One powerful way to achieve the 65 x 25 goal is to introduce high school and college students to school-to-career-pathways. These are partnerships between employers and local high schools and area colleges that often consist of internships, apprenticeships and other workplace-based educational experiences.
These partnerships are valuable for exposing young people to job and career opportunities right in their backyards. Becoming aware of employment opportunities in their immediate area will result in more young people staying here in New Hampshire when graduating from high school, community college or a four-year institution. This will make the pool of skilled labor deeper than it is today.
Many New Hampshire businesses have pioneered school-to-career programs of their own making. They’ve developed curriculua, job shadowing programs and other innovative ways to train the next generation of workers they want. Some offer tuition reimbursement. Some offer job guarantees upon program completion. Even employers that normally compete for customers and qualified employees are working collaboratively to provide the resources they’ll all need if they want to prosper in the future.
Among the state’s advanced manufacturers, many have created programs that introduce students to the skills needed by computer numerical control operators and other advanced machinists. They’ve produced their own camps for middle-schoolers focused on opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Many offer hands-on training that concludes in certification, college credits or even job offers. Health-care providers struggling to find nurses, medical assistants, entry-level clinicians and even administrative staff versed in the challenges of medical records and billing have created apprenticeships to train future employees within their facilities.
If you only plan to be in business for a few years, then accessing a skilled workforce may not be your problem. For the rest of the business community, however, developing New Hampshire’s future workforce is absolutely your problem. And if you don’t already have skin in the game by working with your local high school, community college or four-year institution on some form of school-to-career pathway, then you should take proactive steps to do so. We can help.
Our Workforce Accelerator 2025 team provides services to employers at no cost. We can help you reach out to schools, administrators and educators to start the conversation about engaging area students in your business for high school credit, college internships, apprenticeships and more. We can introduce you to other business leaders willing to share their experience, knowledge and best practices. We can acquaint you with private, public and nonprofit resources to put it all together. The important thing is that you start, that you step up.
A deep and talented workforce is critical to a healthy climate for job creation and a strong New Hampshire economy. Contact me at scolson@BIAofNH.com to learn how to get your business active in creating school-to-career pathways for students in your area.
The Foundation’s work with the BIA on Workforce Accelerator is part of its New Hampshire Tomorrow initiative to make sure all of New Hampshire’s kids have the opportunity to reach their full potential and grow into the adults who will contribute to and sustain our communities.
This article originally appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader.